Media Headlines Matter

 

Kap Kneeling
Colin Kaepernick, right, and Eric Reid kneeling during the national anthem before an N.F.L. game last year. Credit Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Today there was yet another news article published somewhere in the United States about the shortage of police applicants in their jurisdiction. Admittedly, I didn’t read the article. The headline stated what we already know, or at least what any reasonable person would suspect. People aren’t applying to be police officers anymore. At least not at the rate they did in the past. (If you could see me as I write this, I’m displaying my best shocked face).

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past four years. Since the Ferguson, Missouri police shooting and the subsequent riots and protests that swept the nation, police officers across the country have been labeled nothing short of racist and blood thirsty monsters. By and large, thanks to the mainstream media in this country. Why? The answer is simple. The controversy surrounding policing in the recent years has made them money. Sadly, it’s that simple. The more people protested, marched, and held rallies, the more the media could give them the microphone to stir the controversy. The more controversial a topic gets, the more clicks, views, and revenue they make. Their job is to make money. Nothing gets more views than something controversial.

How do I know this? I know from experience in writing and posting articles like this one on my website and social media platforms. The number of “views, clicks, or shares” articles get, seem to be directly correlated to the photo or title that accompanies the article. To test this, I’ve posted the exact same article with two different photos and guess which one got more traction? The one with the more controversial and sad photo. Same article. Same title. Different photo. Completely different results in readership. The photo and title I choose for this article will be relevant the first time I post it. Then the following day I will repost it with an even more controversial person in the photo, I’m almost certain, the results will be completely different. We will see how it affects readership and I will update this article. I don’t like or want to be controversial. I started this to be honest, truthful, and give officers a voice. Their side of the story if you will. But, sometimes controversy happens.

Conclusion, the more sad or controversial an article title or photo appears, the more “clicks, reads, or views” it garners. So maybe we as consumers are also to blame? Apparently, America just loves controversy and sadness. This may all be true, but it doesn’t remove responsibility from the mainstream media to be mindful on how they report facts and stories, or worse, how they choose to skew them.

Basically, media headlines matter.

The narrative they push matters and has direct and tragic real life consequences when they create hate that leads to police being ambushed and killed like in Dallas on July 7th, 2016. Other consequences are less tragic, but equally concerning when it comes to the lack of police applicants nationwide. Soon, there will be a crisis. I’m calling it now. Unless the economy crashes and people are in dire need of jobs, police applications will remain low, continually pushing police departments to levels that put officers and the public at risk. Who honestly wants to work holidays, weekends, and be called a monster for doing your job for $60,000 a year? Not to mention the obvious dangers associated with the job.

Sadly, the mainstream media doesn’t care about the repercussions of their controversy creating headlines. They don’t care if people who once strongly desired to be a police officer, are now rethinking their career choice. Can you blame them? After over a decade of wearing the uniform myself, in one of the largest cities in the country, my simple answer is, NO. I don’t blame them. In fact, I think it is wise to really question your desire to be a police officer in 2018 and beyond. If you really, really, want to be one, then do it. Because those are usually the best ones. It’s not just a job, a paycheck, or something you should do half-assed. It’s a serious job, with lifelong consequences for you, your family, and everyone you deal with. If it’s nothing more than a paycheck to you, you’re likely the kind of officer I wish never became one. They generally seem to become officers that make negative headlines in legitimate way.

Buzzwords like “police reform” now flood media headlines and political rallies because somehow “they” believe “they” can change the fact that every day police officers confront the violence most people deny exists. Yet somehow, “they” get upset when the confrontation turns deadly. Well, let’s keep speaking the truth, “they” only get upset if the police officer survives and a citizen dies. However, if the officer happens to be one race and the deceased another, CHACHING!!! Time for an inflammatory headline! Let’s not worry about the facts or circumstances surrounding the incident, publish that inflammatory headline! To hell with the consequences! Who cares about the facts or the fact the entire incident was on video and  likely justified!? Profit through division. Tell me I’m wrong.

Sadly, no matter how many community events police plan, cute lip-sync videos are made, or ice cream cones are handed out in the summer. One even remotely controversial police shooting and we are back to square one with the help of the media. Police are quickly painted with a wide accusatory brush suggesting that because of ONE particluar incident, we must remind you that ALL police are racist, blood thirsty monsters! It’s like a sad game of chutes and ladders.

Meanwhile police recruiters hastily hold up signs at a job fairs, “Sign up folks! Come join the team! It’s the greatest show on earth! Let’s make a difference! You can help people!” Come on, let’s stay on the honesty train. Times have changed and your good intentions no longer matter. It’s now all about what the media headlines say that define police officers’ actions. The media doesn’t care if you are the best officer to ever wear the uniform, never been disciplined, or have 58 medals pinned on your chest. Ultimately, when given the chance you, the American police officer will be crucified to their benefit.

To my knowledge there’s never been a protest or rally after a police officer was shot and killed. If there has been, please enlighten me, because I am unaware of such an incident. Vigils don’t count. Police haters generally spew the usual despicable response when an officer is killed, “That’s what they signed up for.” Get real. No one signs up to die.

I’ll be the first to say, dirty or racist cops of any kind should be fired and go to prison if warranted. The recent 3 year prison sentence of a Police Chief for framing African Americans for crimes they didn’t commit was too short. The punishment should have been harsher for ruining people’s lives, betraying the trust of society, and tarnishing the badge. His despicable acts have consequences for everyone involved and the damage is permanent and likely irreparable. For that, he should’ve been punished more harshly.

To conclude, I will say this. Police officers don’t become police officers to get rich. They don’t become police officers to hurt people. They genuinely view their job as a way to keep the evil from hurting the good. They know their role is to hold those accountable for THEIR bad decisions. Becoming a police officer, is a way to serve their community and bear burdens of which most people are blissfully unaware. They don’t go into notoriously violent communities – no matter what the racial makeup may be – looking to hurt someone.

The next time you hear about a fatality car accident with multiple people killed, a deadly shooting, or any horrific tragedy, pause for a minute and ask yourself, would you want to be the one rushing to that scene? Do you want to see the dead bodies sprawled across the highway? Do want to see the person taking their last breath after being shot by a rival gang member? How would you feel about the fact the media is able to portray you as a monster or an inherent racist with a few simple keystrokes, despite knowing nothing about you? Despite the fact you rush to those scenes without knowing or caring about the race of the victim. You just want to HELP. Would you be able to handle it? Again, I think we know the answer. When you think about it in these terms, the nationwide police application shortage comes as no surprise. There is an elephant in the room. The question is, how long until it reaches a critical point?

Thank an officer today.

The Officer Next Door 

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The School Shooting Solution, Is There One?

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Every parent’s worst nightmare, a school shooting. I can’t imagine having to experience it as a kid, a teacher, or a parent. I vaguely remember an incident in my high school where a kid brought a gun to class. Luckily, he didn’t use it and the situation was quickly resolved. It was in the classroom across the hall from me, so there’s little doubt I would have been involved to some degree had things gone bad.

Throughout my career, I went through what police call “rapid rescue” or “rapid response” training on more than one occasion. I won’t get into details, but essentially the training was geared toward how to respond to an active shooter, primarily in a large building like a school. When I was a patrol officer on the day shift, I can tell you with absolute certainty, that an active shooter at a school was my worst nightmare. I thought about the possibility of that call coming out every single day, usually as I put my patrol rifle in my squad car at the beginning of my shift. I knew if I had my rifle, I was equipped to get into that situation and handle business with accuracy and confidence. Pistols are just not as accurate, especially at longer distances and under extreme stress, so I was thankful I had that tool. In preparation of my worst nightmare coming true, I studied where all the schools were and even the ones near the borders of my patrol division. I probably should have prepared more and walked through them a few times, but I didn’t. Thankfully, that call never came.

So what is the million dollar school shooting solution? I’ve thought about it, like most of you probably have and I never quite reached a perfect answer. I would hope if there was one, it would have been implemented by now. Short of turning schools into something resembling a prison, I don’t know if there is a hard and fast, guaranteed way to prevent any and all mass shootings in schools. Can you imagine making all of the school windows bulletproof, requiring access cards to get from room to room, pat downs and metal detectors at every entry point, armed guards with a bird’s eye view of the perimeter? Sounds awful.

Also, before I go any further, this topic could turn political quickly and that is certainly not my intention. I am looking at this solely from a police and teacher perspective in regards to their roles in prevention and in ending an incident quickly, should one arise.

First off, I think school resource officers are paramount in every school. They have so many upsides, I don’t see why a school wouldn’t have one. To start, they are there daily and get to know the kids. By always being there, they know who likes who, who fights with who, and may even have an idea of someone that could be at risk of carrying out such an atrocity. As we have seen in the past, there are usually warning signs, but not always. This doesn’t mean that intervention or prevention by police is a certainty. Hindsight is always 20/20.  Sadly, people fail to realize that law enforcement could intervene in certain situations, however, we don’t live in a full on “Big Brother” society that allows police to follow “those suspected of being dangerous” on a 24 hour basis. Police aren’t always ready to step in at the first sign of trouble. That just simply isn’t realistic. I hate to break it to you, that’s just the truth.

Yes, you could arrest a bad apple for making threats or getting into fights or whatever it is that the bad apple did to raise suspicion. If you’re being realistic about how KIDS are dealt with criminally, unless they kill someone, they will eventually be released to a parent or guardian and able to carry out their previous threats, should they be so determined. It’s just a fact. Unless people are honestly willing to lock up kids forever anytime they threaten to carry out a mass shooting, then the notion that it is solely up to the police and justice system to intervene is ridiculous.

Should we arm teachers? Initially, I was like, “Heck yeah we should!” And to some degree, I see benefits of it. But like most things in life, there are also drawbacks or unintended consequences we must consider. To start, where do you keep the firearm and how do you ensure it won’t be taken and used against kids in the school by a bad actor? Even if the teacher keeps it on their person, they could be disarmed by a big angry kid who has been bullied for years. Do you secure it in a safe in the classroom? If so, will the firearm be accessible when it is needed when seconds matter? Which teachers should be armed? Do we take volunteers and only allow those who may have a military background, are avid hunters, or have a concealed weapons permit? That seems to make sense, but it may not be the perfect solution, if one even exists. I don’t see the advantage or forcing someone who has no interest in using a gun, to use one. They’d likely be more of a danger than a help, if an active shooter took place.

Maybe if teachers were armed there would have to be extremely strict rules and protocols that had to be followed? For example, if a shooting is taking place, as soon as the school went into lockdown, any armed teachers must remain in the room they are in, no matter what. An armed teacher could only confront a shooter, IF the shooter managed to enter a “locked down room” and it was vital and necessary to take action, in order to protect themselves and the kids in that particular room. Basically, no running around with pistols in your hand trying to save the day. If a teacher is armed and is actively attempting to find and end the shooting while police are also running into the school, how do they know who are “good guys” and who is the “bad guy”? I know the arguement to this will be, “So just sit there while the shooter is actively killing? It defeats the purpose!” Yes, this topic is difficult. No one shooting is exactly the same. You can plan all day and set up measures to prevent a shooting and one could still happen.

In a recent presentation I attended about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, the officer said when he ran into the building it was complete chaos. The fire alarms were going off, water was spraying everywhere from bullets that hit waterlines, and everyone was screaming and running. Communication was nearly impossible. Adding teachers running around with guns into the mix, doesn’t seem like a great solution to the problem, it could easily make the incident worse and lead to even more tragedy. That is why I think the lockdown method may be the most realistic. If nearly every room had a gun, then the hope would be that the threat would be neutralized quickly. Of course, everything always sounds good in theory.

Lastly, let’s not forget, it takes a special person to run toward a horrible event like an active shooter. There’s no other way to put it. Human nature tells us to run away. So we need to consider the absolute courage it would take to confront a shooter in a school. Not to mention, asking a teacher to shoot someone they likely know as a student. Horrible to even think about, I know. I can assure you, the idea of it isn’t any better if you’re a police officer. I’ve said this many times in my articles, police officers don’t want to kill anyone. Period. I don’t care if they’re the biggest monster in the world, in the end, you’re taking a life and that isn’t normal. I don’t care what anyone says, it will change you. The training for this type of incident using fake ammunition similar to paint balls, really gets your adrenaline going. I can’t imagine what it is like heading into a live situation where the consequences are real and permanent. I would like to think that if I was charged with handling that kind of situation, I would have in an efficient and effective way. Luckily, I never had to find out.

So what is the solution? I honestly don’t know. I think every solution needs to be heavily thought out and we consider pros and cons of every decision. I think ultimately it starts with parents, and trickles down to teachers and eventually the kids. Bullying is a major issue. I have yet to hear of a situation where a student likely to be voted “Homecoming King” goes on a killing spree to get revenge on all the people that like him. That isn’t a joke, it just highlights an obvious underlying root cause, being bullied, ostracized, and picked on.

So what can parents, teachers, and kids do? Well you know the answer to that. Be smart, be vigilant, and be kind. See something, say something. All the clichés are already out there. Also, we can’t ignore the harsh reality that there is a certain percentage of humans that are just pure evil. There’s no other word for it. Evil. Someone that is pure evil, likely can’t be stopped if they are determined to be evil. If I figure out how to prevent or stop someone from carrying out acts of pure evil, I will let you know. Until then, stay safe and take care.

Thank an officer today.

The Officer Next Door

Stop blaming police officers for the actions of criminals

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Photo credit: https://thehill.com ©Getty Images

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. A common saying that applies to policing more perfectly than people may realize. Most of society probably isn’t aware that there are basically two “kinds” of police officers, proactive and reactive. They have their pros and cons, but both are important to have a successful and effective police department.

As a police officer, you have the ability to decide which kind of officer you want to be. The “pro-active” police officer is the one that answers calls for service, but prefers to actively pursue the criminal element or find a person with an active felony warrant, illegal guns or drugs, and put them in jail. A pro-active officer comes into work early and reads all of the crimes that took place over the past few days. They note vehicle license plates taken at gunpoint in the latest armed robbery, they note the homes that were broken into and what was stolen (in case they come across someone with two televisions, an iPad, or wrapped Christmas presents with the name “Suzy” on them), in essence they pay attention to crime trends and possible suspects they may encounter over their shift.

This is what I call a pro-active and diligent officer. One that gives a damn, sticks their neck out a little more than the rest, by actively seeking to find and arrest the criminal element, more so than the other kind of officer, the “reactive” officer. I say “stick their neck out” because inherently when you’re actively seeking the criminal element, the likelihood they “get into something” as police officers say, goes up. The likelihood they get into a fight, car chase, or shooting, increases exponentially because they are actively seeking those in society who are violent and are committing violent crimes. Subsequently, those violent individuals tend to have more to lose. If caught, they are likely headed to a cell with a roommate they don’t get to choose for an extended period of time. This isn’t good for the pro-active police officer. This likely means more complaints from internal affairs, more injuries, and more chances to get hurt or killed themselves. These incidents take a toll on you as an officer and can affect your pay, or promotional eligibility. Some officers start out “proactive” then eventually become more “reactive” as they age. Or lately, more officers are becoming “reactive” as it is safer physically and they are less likely to end up in the news, be accused of wrong doing, using excessive force, being racist, or any other number of accusations that have become popular in the “post Ferguson” era of policing.

On the contrary, the reactive officer is sort of like a fireman in a police uniform. This isn’t a knock on firemen, all jokes aside, they’re heroes and amazing folks. A reactive police officer will get in their police car and basically go wherever the dispatcher tells them to go, answering calls as they come in. This kind of officer is a necessary member of your team, as they allow the pro-active officer more time to do what pro-active officers do, actively search for the criminal element. I’m not saying reactive officers are bad, in fact, they’re good because they embody the “serve” aspect of “protect and serve”. They are more “customer service” based as a quick response time is something everyone wants when they call police for help. So these officers are essential for a balanced and effective police department. These officers are far less likely to get into a fight, car chase, or shooting, because by nature, responding to call for service is REACTIVE in nature. The crime already happened and they are being called to the scene to take the report. Again, vital to police operations, but don’t count on these guys to make multiple traffic stops and recover those stolen Christmas presents or get the felon with two pistols and some heroin off the street. They’re too busy heading to that next call about a stolen checkbook from a vehicle, than to make a traffic stop and catch a “bad guy.”

The sad thing about our society is they “want their cake and to eat it too” when it comes to police officers. They want the reactive and consoling officer to show up in a quick and expedient manner when called. But they don’t want to see an officer speeding to get to that call, putting people in danger. Drive normal and cautiously, but hurry up and get here! They don’t want to see police officers fighting anyone or possibly hurting anyone, let alone shooting anyone. But at the same time, society wants crime rates to be low, response times to be short, and the bad guys caught and held responsible! But in the process, no one can get hurt, little to no force should be used, and certainly nothing should be done that puts anyone at risk of injury or death, especially members of society who aren’t committing crimes. Trust me, police officers want this too.

Well, guess what? That’s rather altruistic and basically impossible. If you are chasing the violent felons and members of our society that have chosen a life of crime, the odds of bad things happening are unfortunately high. They’re certainly much higher than taking the reactive police officer application of policing and simply showing up AFTER something bad happens.

When a proactive officer sees a suspect that has taken a car at gunpoint, or confronts a drug dealer known to be armed, the common sense person has to see that the likelihood of a foot chase, fight, car chase, or shooting, are higher. It’s just the unfortunate truth about policing and confronting violent criminals. If you are a more “reactive” police officer, your shifts will be generally uneventful, if all you’re doing is speaking with crime victims to take their report. In essence, the “reactive officers” mostly deal with the “good people” in society. The proactive officers assigned to “Gang Units” or narcotics task forces head out each day with the goal of being the “cat” and the bad guys are the “mouse”. This is a long running game that has rules that only the cat has to follow and usually ends with the cat winning and the mouse going to jail. But this game isn’t without consequences, sometimes deadly ones. In my opinion, this is where society has begun to get it wrong, by blaming the cat for the actions of the mouse. Yes, there are rules. Yes, the cat has a duty and responsibility to be diligent and operate in a safe manner and not put people in harm’s way unnecessarily. But lest not forget, ultimately the mouse decides what to do, whether to fight, run, or produce a weapon. The cat merely reacts and does their best to catch the mouse. The cat can’t force the mouse to make bad decisions, the cat just hopes the mouse complies and everyone goes home safe.

So the next time you see a news article or video on the internet, ask yourself, who caused this to happen? The cat or the mouse? And then also ask yourself, what kind of police officer do you want protecting your city, county, and country a proactive or reactive one? Maybe a mixture of both?

Ultimately, all police officers are REACTIVE to the decisions made by the people they encounter. They can’t control whether the “mouse” decides to run, fight, bite, kick, or shoot at them. We need to change the lens we use to view these incidents and recognize that policing isn’t always pretty, but in the end, it really is up to the “mouse” to decide if the outcome is peaceful or violent. A tough job for sure.

Thank an officer today.

The Officer Next Door

You Want To Know The Truth?

Sad officersImage Source: JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

You Want To Know The Truth?

A friend of mine recently asked, “Tell me, what is it really like being a police officer?”

I smiled as this was the hundredth time I’ve been asked that question. I thought to myself, “If you only knew the truth.” Protector to a fault, I couldn’t unload the real truth about what it’s like to be a police officer. Instead, I smiled and said, “It’s good, every day is different and I get to work outside.” If he only knew. Over the next few minutes, I would smile and nod as if I was paying attention to the conversation.

In reality, I was thinking to myself, if you want to know the truth, I’ll tell you the truth. When my wife asks how my day was I respond with a rehearsed, “It was fine.” I say that to protect her and I guess myself too. I’m not trying to be rude or short. I don’t want to keep things from her or hurt her feelings. I guess the truth is, I don’t want to relive the fatality car accident I responded to last night. A mother, father, and their two children didn’t survive, it was horrific.

If you want to know the truth, a few days ago I came home and was distant and distracted. My wife got upset with me because I wasn’t listening when she told me about the parent-teacher conference she attended alone. What she doesn’t know is someone shot at me on my last shift. I debated telling her but don’t want her to worry more than she already does. Honestly, I am just thankful to be alive. The scary truth is, my wife almost became a widow and my kids almost lost their father. That thought is really messing with my head. I guess that’s what I signed up for, so I’ll have a few more beers and then head to bed. I’ve got work in the morning.

If you want to know the truth, even though that guy shot at me, I’m thankful I wasn’t able to shoot back. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t want that on my conscience. I don’t want to be on restricted duty because I need to work overtime to pay the bills. The truth is, I don’t want to hurt anyone and certainly don’t want to kill anyone. I want to help them but I know I’m a consequence for some, a sigh of relief for others, and a hero to a few. The truth is, I don’t go looking for a fight; the fight comes to me, whether I want it to or not. Ultimately, I just want to go home at the end of the night.

You want to know the truth? Today I got word that I’m being investigated, another ridiculous complaint and now my long-awaited promotion is in jeopardy. A drug dealer is claiming his money went missing and he was roughed up while being arrested. Despite the fact the video will prove none of that is true, I have to wait months for the outcome. No matter what, that complaint is on my record forever now. One more thing I have to explain to the promotion board if I even make it that far.

The truth is, my wife is expecting our second child and that promotion would really help with the upcoming expenses. Carrying all this stress the last few days, I’ve been pissed when I hit the streets. But just last night, I was flagged down by a frantic mother and was able to resuscitate her unconscious baby. The truth is, seeing the joy and relief on that mother’s face restored a sense of worth and purpose. In seconds, the anger and stress about the complaint and promotion were gone. I helped someone today and the truth is, that’s why I do this job.

If you want to know the truth, I’m not a hateful person. I don’t care what you look like, where you came from, or what you’ve done in the past, I will give my life for you. I may not know you, but that isn’t a reason to hesitate when seconds matter. The truth is, helping people is in my blood. I run toward danger, I shield strangers from harm, and I accept death as a consequence. I guess the truth is, it’s just my way of life. I’m a risk taker but don’t like the idea of dying. I didn’t sign up to die, however, I accept it could happen. The truth is, I would feel bad for my parents; no parent should have to bury a child. At least it would be honorable, that should count for something.

If you want to know the truth, I have a wife, a mother, a father, one brother and two dogs. I have a family just like you. Even if I have to work, they hope to see me at birthday parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I like football and baseball. I watch movies and can quote some of them word for word. I guess the truth is, I’m not much different than you are. I have my good days and bad. I hope for the best, expect the worst, and always try to do the right thing. Like you, I want my family to be proud of me. I don’t want to bring disgrace to my name, my family, or my late grandfather whom I know is watching from above.

If you want to know the truth, I love my country, my city, and my brothers and sisters in blue. I guess they are why I keep coming to work every day. I don’t want to abandon them or our fight for what is right. We defend the vulnerable and defenseless from crime and evil. It’s what we do. If you want to know the truth, it gets harder every day. I just blocked some friends on social media. They said they wished “all pigs would die,” I just can’t stomach that. Why should I die? What have I done wrong? I just want to help people.

You want to know the truth? I may not act like it, but the job is starting to take a toll on me. Sometimes I lie in bed and start crying out of nowhere. I don’t feel sad, nothing in particular happened that day. In fact, I had a pretty boring shift. But the truth is, sometimes I just lie there and cry and I’m not sure why. I suppose the truth is, I just had to let it out and eventually I feel better. I’m not too sure if that’s a good thing but that’s the truth. I guess that’s just part of the job.

The truth is, some days I wonder if it’s all worth it. It seems like everyone hates us these days and no matter what we do, we are always to blame. The cards seem stacked against us. Surely, we are playing a game we can’t win. I can’t watch the news anymore. All you see is more protests, tragedy, death, and half-truths. Headlines that seem to be aimed at stoking the flames and furthering the narrative that the police are the enemy. I guess the truth is, I just want to do a good job and make a difference, but that seems impossible these days. Ultimately it seems like even if I did, no one would notice.

If you want to know the truth, the more I think about it, it’s just not worth it anymore. I drink all the time and my wife said she’s filing for divorce. I guess the truth is becoming clear, I’m not a hero. I can’t help myself, let alone strangers who call 911. I am angry all the time and I’m losing this battle. I don’t see a reason to go on. I’m losing my wife, my kids, my life seems over and this job has made me into someone I don’t want to be.

If you want to know the truth, I planned on killing myself today. I wrote the note and had a plan but couldn’t pull the trigger. I just couldn’t do it. Thankfully, I decided I’m going to take control of my life. I am going to seek help. I decided I need to make some changes and give myself a chance to be happy. I will fight for my wife and the life I once had. I guess the truth is, since all I ever do is fix stranger’s problems, I forgot to fix my own.

The truth is, when you asked, “Tell me, what is it really like being a police officer?” These are all the things I wanted to say. Instead, I smiled and replied, “It’s good, every day is different and I get to work outside.”

– The Officer Next Door

The Unsung Heroes

Police officers, fire fighters, EMTs, military members, corrections officers, teachers, and nurses. The public servants of society share many things in common. Most people respect them and most of us appreciate their sacrifices, rightfully so. They usually work in harsh environments, work long hours for generally speaking, low pay. As much as the people who choose these career paths deserve admiration and respect, there is an entire group of people that are often overlooked. The spouses and family members of our public servants or the “unsung heroes” of our society.

They are truly the “unsung heroes” of public service. Not only do they shoulder work schedules that include long hours, shift work, or unpredictable “on call” statuses; they are at home trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy in the absence of their spouse. Celebrating Christmas on the 23rd or the 26th because your spouse has to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, is anything but ideal and certainly not the “normal” the rest of society gets to enjoy.

It should go without saying, worry is a constant for the families of public servants. Every time their loved one walks out the front door, they hope they return the way they left. In recent years, it would not be a stretch to say the dangers have increased. Though statistically 2017 was a better year than most – in regards to line of duty deaths – an increase in ambush style attacks and unsolicited shootings of police officers do nothing to quell the fears for law enforcement families.

In a recent email from a reader I was asked, “How are wives supposed to handle the fear associated with their spouses being police officers in a society that so openly disrespects police?” My initial thought was how much I wish I had an amazing answer. One that could help them sleep at night. I wish I could prevent their heart skipping a beat when the phone rings, or there is an unexpected knock at the door during their spouse’s shift. Truthfully, that point of concern is exactly why I started writing these articles and created The Officer Next Door website. The pure hatred and vitriol that motivated the cowardly shooter in Dallas, Texas on July 7, 2016, lends credibility to the fear law enforcement spouses experience daily.

The dangers law enforcement officers face today have changed since 2014. The Ferguson effect is NOT just limited to police officers’ new hesitation to engage in proactive policing. It has also increased the chances of being targeted simply because of the uniform they wear. I think most law enforcement spouses realize the job their loved one signed up for is dangerous. However, I don’t think most law enforcement spouses dreamt it would become common place for officers to be shot while taking no enforcement action at all. This would be like worrying about your firefighter spouse dying doing something other than fighting fires. Sadly today, eating lunch can lead to being injured or killed and that is hard to digest for police spouses.

To the men and women out there married to a first responder, THANK YOU. Parents, siblings, and family members of public servants, THANK YOU. Without you, our public servants would struggle. You are the support system they need to be successful. The fact they became a public servant is a reflection on you as a parent or spouse and you should be proud.

I will offer this idea to help with your fear and worry regarding the daily dangers your spouses or family members face. Be vocal and supportive when talking about their jobs and their personal sacrifices. Share your concerns and worries with your friends. Don’t be shy to share with people what goes on in a family that has a first responder or public servant in it. Don’t “unfriend” people that speak negatively about law enforcement. It’s easy to turn a cheek to the ones who “don’t understand” what it is like to be a police officer or public servant in 2018. I can certainly relate.

When you speak to someone you know personally and share your perspective as a law enforcement spouse, one would hope they will listen with a sympathetic ear. Furthermore, I would hope they would take your input and perspective at face value as friends or acquaintances. When critics read my articles, they automatically think I am biased and ONLY support police regardless of fault, which is simply not true.

I have noticed that most people who are vocal or critical of police officers’ actions often have valid points or concerns. That being said, they can also be slightly misguided or have certain beliefs or opinions that are based on lies or half-truths. In this instance, it would be your job to dispel any mistruths about a particular incident or topic. All too often you see people in social media comments sections saying things like, “That’s entrapment!” or “That’s excessive!” Odds are good, if you review whatever it is they are talking about, they are wrong. Or it could simply be the fact, “it doesn’t look good.” Police work isn’t always pretty. People resist, fight, bite, spit, and shoot at police officers. These are all met with equal or greater force, which is legal by the way. None of which is fun to watch or “looks good.”

On the positive side, as technology, equipment, and training improve, officers are indeed safer. They are more aware of the threats they face today and training continually evolves to address these issues. Officers being issued tourniquets and higher quality bulletproof vests help as well. Can you protect against an all-out ambush? No. Just like we can’t stop rain on wedding days. Some things we can’t control, however, I am confident in the future for police.

With knowledge and understanding comes power. The power to change someone’s mind or make them see something from a different perspective is precisely what needs to happen to make police officer’s jobs safer. Unfortunately, there is little to be done about poorly chosen media headlines that care more to stir up emotion and garner clicks, than tell the story in an unbiased or non-inflammatory manner.

That is one aspect of the, “war on police” we have zero control over. So my suggestion of discussion and explanation when afforded the opportunity bears even more weight. I have had personal success of offering a different point of view when discussing law enforcement with people. As mentioned in previous articles, discussion can actually change someone’s point of view. Trolling, commenting with hate, anger, or a sarcastic “meme”, does little to help people see things from a police officer’s perspective.

I would be remiss to suggest that you can change everyone’s mind. I think it is safe to say there will always be some people who simply “hate” police. Usually, they seem to be the ones who place ill-directed hate toward police because they enforce laws they disagree with. Police officers don’t make the laws, they simply enforce them.

Engage people who hate what your spouse does. Attempt to have meaningful dialogue and address their viewpoints and concerns. If they don’t respond well and still “hate” police at least you tried. All we can do as law enforcement supports is continue to take the ever-difficult high road.

If doing the right thing was easy, everyone would do it.

Stay safe, stay supportive, and THANK YOU for being the spouse or family member of a first responder. You are truly the unsung heroes of our society.

Thank a first responder today.

-The Officer Next Door

You Want To Know The Truth?

justin-snyder-photo-606497-unsplash (2)Photo by Justin Snyder Photo on Unsplash

You Want To Know The Truth?

A friend of mine recently asked, “Tell me, what is it really like being a police officer?”

I smiled as this was the hundredth time I’ve been asked that question. I thought to myself, “If you only knew the truth.” Protector to a fault, I couldn’t unload the real truth about what it’s like to be a police officer. Instead, I smiled and said, “It’s good, every day is different and I get to work outside.” If he only knew. Over the next few minutes, I would smile and nod as if I was paying attention to the conversation.

In reality, I was thinking to myself, if you want to know the truth, I’ll tell you the truth. When my wife asks how my day was I respond with a rehearsed, “It was fine.” I say that to protect her and I guess myself too. I’m not trying to be rude or short. I don’t want to keep things from her or hurt her feelings. I guess the truth is, I don’t want to relive the fatality car accident I responded to last night. A mother, father, and their two children didn’t survive, it was horrific.

If you want to know the truth, a few days ago I came home and was distant and distracted. My wife got upset with me because I wasn’t listening when she told me about the parent-teacher conference she attended alone. What she doesn’t know is someone shot at me on my last shift. I debated telling her but don’t want her to worry more than she already does. Honestly, I am just thankful to be alive. The scary truth is, my wife almost became a widow and my kids almost lost their father. That thought is really messing with my head. I guess that’s what I signed up for, so I’ll have a few more beers and then head to bed. I’ve got work in the morning.

If you want to know the truth, even though that guy shot at me, I’m thankful I wasn’t able to shoot back. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t want that on my conscience. I don’t want to be on restricted duty because I need to work overtime to pay the bills. The truth is, I don’t want to hurt anyone and certainly don’t want to kill anyone. I want to help them but I know I’m a consequence for some, a sigh of relief for others, and a hero to a few. The truth is, I don’t go looking for a fight; the fight comes to me, whether I want it to or not. Ultimately, I just want to go home at the end of the night.

You want to know the truth? Today I got word that I’m being investigated, another ridiculous complaint and now my long-awaited promotion is in jeopardy. A drug dealer is claiming his money went missing and he was roughed up while being arrested. Despite the fact the video will prove none of that is true, I have to wait months for the outcome. No matter what, that complaint is on my record forever now. One more thing I have to explain to the promotion board if I even make it that far.

The truth is, my wife is expecting our second child and that promotion would really help with the upcoming expenses. Carrying all this stress the last few days, I’ve been pissed when I hit the streets. But just last night, I was flagged down by a frantic mother and was able to resuscitate her unconscious baby. The truth is, seeing the joy and relief on that mother’s face restored a sense of worth and purpose. In seconds, the anger and stress about the complaint and promotion were gone. I helped someone today and the truth is, that’s why I do this job.

If you want to know the truth, I’m not a hateful person. I don’t care what you look like, where you came from, or what you’ve done in the past, I will give my life for you. I may not know you but that isn’t a reason to hesitate when seconds matter. The truth is, helping people is in my blood. I run toward danger, I shield strangers from harm, and I accept death as a consequence. I guess the truth is, it’s just my way of life. I’m a risk taker but don’t like the idea of dying. I didn’t sign up to die, however, I accept it could happen. The truth is, I would feel bad for my parents; no parent should have to bury a child. At least it would be honorable, that should count for something.

If you want to know the truth, I have a wife, a mother, a father, one brother and two dogs. I have a family just like you. Even if I have to work, they hope to see me at birthday parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I like football and baseball. I watch movies and can quote some of them word for word. I guess the truth is, I’m not much different than you are. I have my good days and bad. I hope for the best, expect the worst, and always try to do the right thing. Like you, I want my family to be proud of me. I don’t want to bring disgrace to my name, my family, or my late grandfather whom I know is watching from above.

If you want to know the truth, I love my country, my city, and my brothers and sisters in blue. I guess they are why I keep coming to work every day. I don’t want to abandon them or our fight for what is right. We defend the vulnerable and defenseless from crime and evil. It’s what we do. If you want to know the truth, it gets harder every day. I just blocked some friends on social media. They said they wanted “all pigs would die,” I just can’t stomach that. Why should I die? What have I done wrong? I just want to help people.

You want to know the truth? I may not act like it but the job is starting to take a toll on me. Sometimes I lie in bed and start crying out of nowhere. I don’t feel sad, nothing in particular happened that day. In fact, I had a pretty boring shift. But the truth is, sometimes I just lie there and cry and I’m not sure why. I suppose the truth is, I just had to let it out and eventually I feel better. I’m not too sure if that’s a good thing but that’s the truth. I guess that’s just part of the job.

The truth is, some days I wonder if it’s all worth it. It seems like everyone hates us these days and no matter what we do, we are always to blame. The cards seem stacked against us. Surely, we are playing a game we can’t win. I can’t watch the news anymore. All you see is more protests, tragedy, death, and half-truths. Headlines that seem to be aimed at stoking the flames and furthering the narrative that the police are the enemy. I guess the truth is, I just want to do a good job and make a difference but that seems impossible these days. Ultimately it seems like even if I did, no one would notice.

If you want to know the truth, the more I think about it, it’s just not worth it anymore. I drink all the time and my wife said she’s filing for divorce. I guess the truth is becoming clear, I’m not a hero. I can’t help myself, let alone strangers who call 911. I am angry all the time and I’m losing this battle. I don’t see a reason to go on. I’m losing my wife, my kids, my life seems over and this job has made me into someone I don’t want to be.

If you want to know the truth, I planned on killing myself today. I wrote the note and had a plan but couldn’t pull the trigger. I just couldn’t do it. Thankfully, I decided I’m going to take control of my life. I am going to seek help. I decided I need to make some changes and give myself a chance to be happy. I will fight for my wife and the life I once had. I guess the truth is, since all I ever do is fix stranger’s problems, I forgot to fix my own.

The truth is, when you asked, “Tell me, what is it really like being a police officer?” These are all the things I wanted to say. Instead, I smiled and replied, “It’s good, every day is different and I get to work outside.”
– The Officer Next Door

It’s Not Normal

Police funeral

It’s not normal, to see the things police officers see, hear, smell, touch and experience.

It’s not normal, to carry the burdens police officers do, emotionally, physically, and mentally.

It’s not normal, to see dead bodies, mangled bodies, decomposed bodies, dead kids, abused kids, homeless people suffering, and people victimized, taken advantage of, raped or killed.

It’s not normal, to respond to scenes of horrific suicides, fatal car accidents, gang violence, domestic violence, random violence, dead animals, and abused animals.

It’s not normal, to tell a family member their loved one has died and won’t be coming home during a death notification call for service.

It’s not normal, to respond to shooting calls where you watch someone take their last breath, or stabbing calls that make you cringe when you see their flesh cut wide open and blood everywhere.

It’s not normal, to stand next to a dead body for hours securing a crime scene, waiting for the coroner to arrive, so you can go eat dinner, as if nothing happened, as if “it’s just another call”.

It’s not normal, that seeing such horrific things becomes your “normal” and you tell yourself it doesn’t bother you. It’s not normal, to be numb to things that would likely devastate the rest of society.

It’s not normal, to experience extreme highs and lows in one day, one minute you’re  typing a report and the next you’re responding to the local business being held up at gunpoint with shots fired. It happens that fast, it is fun in some ways, but it’s not normal.

It’s not normal, to work rotating shifts, rotating days off, work on holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and maintain a semblance of a “normal” life. It’s not normal, to miss these moments in life and expect it not to take a toll on a marriage or the relationship with your children.

It’s not normal, to slowly lose friends that aren’t police officers too. It’s not normal to say, “they just don’t understand me anymore” or “they don’t know what it is like to be a police officer”. It’s not normal, for lifelong friends to wonder why you’ve changed, become more cynical or even angry and distance themselves from you.

It’s not normal, to go to work and not know what time you will get to go home, or if you’ll even make it home at all.

It’s not normal, to wake up at night in a cold sweat because you dreamed you got shot multiple times by a “bad guy” and you were powerless to stop it. It’s not normal, to lie in bed unable to sleep, because all the things you saw that day play in your head like a bad movie you can’t turn off.

It’s not normal, that nearly every call you answer, someone is counting on YOU to help them. They may be at their lowest point, maybe they are experiencing a crisis, a loss, and you have to be there for them, no matter what is going on in your personal life.

It’s not normal, that you as a human being could be personally dealing with a crisis, a divorce, a dying family member, alcohol addiction, or thoughts of suicide, and you’re expected to show up and solve other people’s problems with no regard for your own.

It’s not normal, to go to work every day in hopes of making a positive change or influence in someone’s life only to be spit at, kicked, punched, stabbed, or shot. It’s not normal, to feel you can’t “win”, no matter what you do, or how many lives you save or stickers you give to kids.

It’s not normal, that simply sitting in your work vehicle being present, can get you shot and killed because the decal on that work vehicle said, “POLICE” on it, like NYPD Officers Liu, Ramos, and Familia. Gone, but not forgotten.

It’s not normal, to be shot while eating dinner, minding your own business, only because the patch on your shoulder said, “POLICE”, like Florida Sheriff’s Deputies Sergeant Noel Ramirez and Deputy Taylor Lindsey. Gone, but not forgotten.

It’s not normal, to never be “off duty”. To always be alert, aware, cautious, even concerned, that you may be a target at any given time due to your chosen profession.

It’s not normal, you do the job and maintain a professional demeanor or smile while holding back tears, because in the end you know, someone has to do it and you’re proud that you aren’t normal.

It’s not normal, to attend a funeral for a coworker who died doing the same job as you, almost annually.

It’s not normal, that no matter how much all these things bother you, you couldn’t see yourself doing any other job, because carrying this burden is what you were meant to do. This is your calling.

You are not normal, you’re a police officer.

Luckily their normal is not your normal. If you’re reading this and you aren’t a police officer, some of the things you just read may have bothered you. Odds are good, the images that popped into your head made you uncomfortable, or were hard to think about or even picture. I hope this was the case, because that is a police officer’s daily reality. At the very least, I hope it changes your perspective of police officers and what it is they actually do and experience every single day.

This topic isn’t widely talked about among police officers, for a multitude of reasons. To start, it isn’t a fun topic to talk about. Yes, there are times that officers gather and share “war stories” about all the crazy things they have seen and dealt with. But don’t think for a minute, that the ugliness of it all isn’t still lurking beneath the surface, waiting to rear its ugly head when they least expect it.

Most officers simply choose not to talk about these things and change the subject when asked about what “crazy things they’ve seen”.  Some may even lie and say “nothing crazy has happened lately” just to avoid the topic altogether. Most officers don’t rush home to tell their significant other what they saw or experienced during their shift. For most, it’s easier to say, “Today was fine” or “I don’t want to talk about it” to avoid the conversation and having to relive the bad things they may have seen or experienced that day.

This sort of behavior is common, a defense mechanism if you will. Over time, police become “numb” to seeing the worst side of society. But in the end, it’s still there, lurking and waiting to show up in their subconscious again. It’s like a pressure cooker that constantly gets tested to see how much more can be fit inside. Almost inevitably, it eventually gives way and explodes. Sadly, it can explode in many different forms.

For some, it explodes in the form of an unexplainable outburst, angry rage, or reaction to something that normally wouldn’t bother that person. For others, they may just break down and cry inexplicably until they feel better, not really knowing what triggered it to happen. Some turn to alcohol or other substances to mask the pain or feelings, which lead them down a path of destruction. No two people are the same, therefore, no two police officers are the same. They all experience different things in their careers and each thing affects them differently than the next officer.

Maybe now when you see them, you don’t just see a man or woman in a uniform that took an oath to protect you, but also a person who runs toward the things most run away from each and every day. They see things so you don’t have to see them. They carry a heavy burden and do it because they were chosen to carry it, so you don’t have to.

Being a police officer is much more than writing traffic tickets, breaking up a fun little house party with underage high school kids, or responding to the fender bender to facilitate the exchange of personal information. A police officer is much more than what meets the eye or what you see on television.

People in society simply create their image of what something or someone is, based on their personal experiences and that makes total sense. For example, if your only experience with police officers is being pulled over for speeding, I imagine it is possible you haven’t thought about what a police officer experiences on a daily basis.

I hope this article changes that. The next time you read about a fatality car accident or horrible tragedy, feel sympathy and empathy for the victims, but don’t forget the people responding to the scene, what they experienced and how they are affected too.

I fully recognize that police officers chose their profession and I also recognize that, “if they don’t like it, they can quit.” Some people try being a police officer, only to find out, “it isn’t for them” and kudos to them for having the courage to admit that.

I firmly believe it isn’t a job, it’s a calling. If you become a police officer solely to pay the bills, you are likely not the kind of police officer most people want on their department or patrolling their community.

Being a police officer is recognizing that you will see the worst side of humanity that society has to offer and you accept that as your normal. Chances are good that when a police officer starts their career, they have thought about these things but didn’t quite know what it actually meant until they experienced it firsthand.

It takes a special kind of person to do this job, one that isn’t…”normal”.

To the hundreds of thousands of brothers and sisters in blue around the world, who put their lives and their “normal” on the line every day, thank you.

Don’t be afraid to admit if you’re struggling, need help, or just want to talk to someone. As weird as it may seem to you, asking for help is “normal”.

Thank an officer today.

– The Officer Next Door